Over on Ask a Manager, someone wrote in asking how to let her new manager know about her Celiac Disease. Ask a Manager is an interesting blog dealing with issues at the workplace (hiring, firing, funny/annoying coworker stories, and other HR related advice or stories). I always like and appreciate Alison’s answers because she’s straightforward, diplomatic and doesn’t play games.
Her answer to this person’s question was in line with her normal style, and she suggested the individual say something like this:
“I realized that you mentioned there will be a series of lunches when I start. I have a bunch of boring food allergies that often make it hard for me to eat out — is there a way for us to do those meetings in a context other than lunch? Alternately, if they’re in the office, I can bring my own stuff in to eat, which is what I normally do — but I wanted to mention it to prevent you from going to any special trouble to arrange food for my benefit!”
There were many interesting comments from people who suffer from Celiac Disease or food allergies too.
I agree with the approach she recommended. In a professional setting, we don’t want to come across as sickly, picky or excessively demanding. Being matter-of-fact without getting emotional is the best way to handle the food allergy explanation, both at the workplace and in dating.
One person commented saying she has severe food allergies and has shown her colleagues how to use her Epipen in case she needs it. Depending on your comfort level, this may be a good approach. While I do have anaphylactic food allergies, I have never shown anyone at work how to use it. Some people know about my food allergies and some know I carry an Epipen, but I just haven’t felt it necessary to show them how to use it. I bring my own food almost all of the time and typically eat it in my own office, at my desk. At this stage in my life, I know not to eat anything questionable. I very infrequently eat anything brought in by colleagues, unless I’m 110% sure it’s safe, which is almost never. (I always tell people that both the best and worst thing about Celiac Disease and food allergies is that you can’t eat all the goodies your coworkers bring in!)
My workplace is actually quite accommodating and for our monthly Pizza Lunches, they order cheese free pizza for someone with a dairy allergy, gluten-free pizza for me, and vegetarian pizzas for vegetarians, which is much appreciated. When we have potlucks or other lunches, I usually eat only what I brought and have a soda or something.
What are your thoughts on handling food allergies and Celiac Disease in the workplace?